For Anil Kumar, an executive engineer at the Aminabad sub-station in Lucknow, part of his job is to stay healthy and answer every phone call. For, the web of old power cables and transformers in old Lucknow that keep tripping throughout the day requires him to stay alert and not answering a phone call may mean a swift suspension letter.
“I am not Narendra Modi that I can work non-stop from 6 am to 1 am, but I try my best,” says Kumar. “There is no time to be unwell because then, you will be immediately replaced,” he says, sitting in his office where a weak AC drones on. On a shelf beside his table are files neatly marked ‘RTI’, ‘Government Orders’, ‘Consumer Complaints’, ‘Newspaper Cutting’, ‘5 KW and Above Consumers’, ‘Power Theft Complaints’, among others.
As the BJP and Samajwadi Party engage in a blame game over Uttar Pradesh’s power crisis, it is the footsoldiers of the Power Department — executive engineers such as Kumar, sub-divisional officers, junior engineers and linesmen — who have to bear the brunt of public anger.
Though Lucknow, being the state capital, gets 24×7 power supply, the creaking network, especially in old Lucknow, causes the electricity to trip. “The cables and systems are old and they are too expensive to be replaced,” says Kumar, who usually stays in office from 10 am to 10 pm. “Last year, we provided electricity worth Rs 36 crore (through the station) but recovered only Rs 24-25 crore in bills,” he says.
No matter how late he sleeps, at 8.30 am, he has to telephone his staff at the station and then report back to his boss, S K Verma, the Superintending Engineer of one of the five circles in Lucknow.
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It is 10.15 am and Kumar is in office, attending to consumer complaints and his staff. People usually meet him for bill-related problems while his juniors hear out power-cut complaints. A junior engineer complains to Kumar about some abusive calls that he has been getting. Kumar tells him to save the caller’s number. As the day wears on, the number of visitors to his room drops.
Things are relatively calm until 2 pm when the sub-station itself sees a power outage. The AC goes quiet and Kumar’s staff flings open the windows.
Kumar rushes to the transformer control room and from there to an open area where three huge transformers are kept. These transformers are the heart of the sub-station. Together they receive 33,000 volts from two sources and then convert it into 11,000 kVA each. The three transformers are in turn connected to 72 transformers within a radius of about a kilometre and these cater to a population of around a lakh in the heart of old Lucknow.
The indicators on transformer number 1, with which Kumar’s office too is connected, tell him that the power tripped because the ‘oil’ and ‘winding’ temperatures are too high. It means over 30,000 people in this part of the city are without electricity on a searing 45-degree-Celsius day. A water pipe is brought and a junior engineer is now showering the transformer with water. Kumar’s phone keeps ringing. His colleagues answer the calls and assure them that “Sir (Kumar) himself is monitoring the work”.
“Get a farrata (pedestal fan),” Kumar instructs an officer. A cooler is directed towards the transformer but it doesn’t help. Kumar detects a problem with the indicators and ‘specialists’ are called from the circle office at Residency area of Lucknow. Meanwhile, hunger strikes and as they wait for the specialists to fix the indicators, Kumar proceeds to his room and eats an idli. By now, people start trickling in with complaints. Finally, when power is restored to the transformer at 4.27 pm with a loud bang, Kumar can’t hold back his grin.
At about 5:30 pm, he leaves his office to inspect work being done to repair a damaged aerial cable near the sub-station. The narrow street is crowded and residents suddenly realise that Power Department officials are here. A couple of angry youths yell out threats — “electricity will be back the moment we jam the road!”. Kumar ignores them and leaves.
“The toughest time of the day is between 6 and 10 pm, peak hours of power consumption,” says Kumar, walking back to his office. Just then, he gets a call from his boss, Superintending Engineer (SE) Verma, saying that a Junior Engineer (JE) has been thrashed by the public and Kumar has to reach the circle office at Residency immediately. Apparently, a transformer could not be replaced and the residents had vented their anger on 22-year-old Hemant Rai. “Maar peet kar paoge to aa jao (Come with me if you can fight),” he jokes dryly to a junior.
It is 6.40 pm and a small group of angry JEs is already present at the circle office. SE Verma is yet to arrive and JEs are getting restless. When Verma finally arrives, the JEs crowd around him but barely a few seconds into the talks, they start raising slogans against Verma, demanding his resignation. Verma tries to speak but is shouted down.
Kumar now has the unenviable job of being the mediator. He takes charge and his boss slinks out. Meanwhile, the protesting JEs have ordered power cuts at their respective stations and by now, minor public protests have begun in Verma’s circle, which covers six locations in Lucknow. Journalists and photographers have arrived and so have police.
Just when it seems things can’t get any worse, Kumar is told that one of the three transformers at the Aminabad sub-station is billowing smoke. Kumar sends two of his JEs back to the station.
It is 8 pm and after a lot of shouting, the JE union leaders and Verma head to a room for negotiations. Kumar, meanwhile, is supervising a complaint against the attack on the JE.
Negotiations over, complaint typed, crowd dispersed and electricity restored in the circle, Kumar rushes back to his station at 9 pm, where he is informed that a few people had mobbed the sub-station and police had to be called in. The faulty transformer had to be switched on to appease the protesters.
At 10 pm, he calls up his staff and they tell him that all 72 transformers under the Aminabad sub-station are working. A few calls about local faults trickle in, but there’s nothing major. He finally leaves for home at 10.45 pm.
It is almost 12 am and Kumar, having eaten his dinner, is pacing up and down the road outside his home. For nearly 20 minutes now, his phone hasn’t rung. It’s dark and peaceful — until the next call.